November 24 2011
– The fugitive father of a two-year-old girl who drowned while strapped into her car seat in a New Jersey park was today charged with murder.
Tierra Morgan, of Lakehurst, was on a court-approved visit with her father Arthur Morgan III, 27, on Monday but he never brought her back.
Now authorities are looking for him after she was found dead on Tuesday by teenagers in Shark River Park, who told park rangers what they saw.
Tragedy: Tierra Morgan, right, of New Jersey, was having a court-approved visit with her father Arthur Morgan III, left, on Monday but he never brought her back
A warrant charging Morgan with child endangerment was issued before the girl’s body was found and an autopsy will be done this morning.
But an abduction alert for Tierra was not issued because the state had no reason to believe the child was in danger until she was found dead.
He met the child’s mother Imani Benton, 24, at a supermarket on Monday to take her out for the rest of the day, reported the Asbury Park Press.
Morgan had not visited the child in a month and planned to take her to the park and watch the film ‘Happy Feet Two’ at the cinema, friends said.
Remembered: Flowers rest on a chair near the front door of the home where 2-year-old Tierra Morgan lived in Lakehurst, New Jersey
House: A Lakehurst police officer enters a home on Maple Street in Lakehurst where Imani Benton, 24, lives, after her daughter was found dead
He was legally-obliged to return Tierra by 9pm but when he did not come back Ms Benton called police, the girl’s grandmother told the newspaper.
‘Student-aged children came across what they were concerned was a child in the creek’
What rangers told police
A 15-year-old boy was one of three teenagers who saw her hand sticking out of a river in Shark River Park and realised it was that of a child.
Park rangers then called police, saying ‘student-aged children came across what they were concerned was a child in the creek’.
The creek, about 20 miles north of where she lived, is up to 7ft deep in the area where the body was found, near an overpass 15ft above the creek.
Scene: Authorities are looking for Morgan after his daughter was found dead on Tuesday by children playing in Shark River Park, who notified park rangers
Locator map: Morgan met the child’s mother Imani Benton, 24, at a supermarket on Monday to take her out for the rest of the day
Ms Benton was told on Tuesday night her daughter was dead, just over 24 hours after she had left her with Morgan.
‘The detectives came to my door and told me she was dead in the woods. I don’t know what I’m going to do’
‘The detectives came to my door and told me she was dead in the woods,’ she told the Asbury Park Press. ‘I don’t know what I’m going to do.’
NJ Transit, Amtrak and the Port Authority of New York and New Jersey were assisting the FBI and the U.S. Marshals Service in a search for Morgan on Wednesday.
Their hunt included train and bus stations, airports, bridges and tunnels.
– Mark Duell